Garden catalogs abound. The stores are pitching Santa plastic and stocking garden supplies. Now is the time to save money by starting your own seeds in the greenhouse or window while the snow and cold blows outside.
Onions first come to mind. You can buy seed and start your own, or buy onion bunches in the catalogs and hopefully at your garden center. Onions are short-day neutral or long photoperiod for growing. Fortunately for us, we are pretty much day neutral and most any onion will grow in this area.
Locate a growing flat, or an old pot, top off with moist soil and spread the seeds all over the surface. Place the flat on the floor where it is cool-you do not need a heat mat.
You can save on potting soils by using old potting soil from years back, and just put an inch of fresh weed free soil on top of the old soil, bottom water of course, and spread seed.
This is also a good time to dig out those Echinacea and Marigold seedpods and do the same thing. Just spread the seeds on the surface of the garden flat, water a bit and the seeds will germinate quickly. Trying to hand insert seed by seed in the soil is a waste of time and less reliable in germination.
Another advantage of just broadcasting the seed on the flat is that when you are lifting up the small plants for transplant, more seeds will germinate and you will have more plants that you want. This is better than not having enough.
This is my year of trees. Last fall I discussed gathering tree seeds. My broadcast Golden Rain tree seeds for my bee ventures, now retailing at about $7.00 for a tiny tree, have already provided over 80 trees of 4” height transplanted up and into cans. My Catalpa tree seeds are a little later in sprouting it seems, and next week will be digging them up from the greenhouse beds and transplanting into cans.
Since Golden Rain trees are deer resistant I plan to plant them around my upper garden in front of the deer fencing, hopefully adding more protection as well as attracting my neighbor’s bees. The catalpas will be planted in a fence line with my neighbor.
Marigolds, when inter-planted thickly with the garden plants, are an aid in reducing hungry insects, they also produce medicine and if you plant the tall Mexican Marigolds you can reduce root nematode infestations. These Marigolds are a specific for herbal medicines which we will discuss this summer. Plant for saturation not just samples.
I pick out the Marigolds and Echinacea, as an example, and place them on two-inch cubes in the flat as marked out by a garden tool commonly re-flooding the garden gadget catalogs. This tool was a hot item 20 years ago, then faded from listings. I bought the 2”x2” hand model that squeezes out 4 cubes. I never did come to like it, as I never discovered the proper potting soil for the cube to stay together so I now just use it as a marker. The concept is great as it saves cans for transplanting etc, but as I said it just does not hold together. Watering is a problem, as you cannot spray, it just washes away. If you bottom water you also need an extra layer of a couple inches of potting soil to retain moisture if you are using heat mats, otherwise they dry out too fast.
An excellent layout for these specialized tools may be found in the “Johnny’s Selected Seeds” catalog. Go to www.johnnyseeds.com and request a catalog.
Speaking of heat mats, I use them very little unless the Solar Green House potting section seems too cool for some heat loving seeds, and to avoid initial damp off. This week is a warm cycle, so take advantage of it.
Since I have big dogs I have big dog food cans every day, and when the big dog is fed, the little dog cleans out the cans. By using a hammer claw and punching a double hole on the bottom of the can I have a nice size long season transplant holder fort my tree seedlings (I do not put them in the ground until fall time as that is when it rains.). The weed and grass growth slows down and I am busy into the next year’s cycle.
Many souls have inquired about something other than metal dog food cans. First off let me say that you need a fairly large food can, not little kitty cans and such as there is no room for roots and soil. Once when I had the idea of selling my exotic tomatoes instead of giving them way I discovered an excellent “can” for transplants.
Every time you buy a beverage at the drive through window you get a Styrofoam cup shaped with a wide top and a narrow bottom. These cups are in various ounce sizes. You can buy these Styrofoam cups with the plastic sippy lids by the case of a thousand for about $50.00, maybe less-maybe more depending on which gas station convenience store you deal with. These cups make wonderful transplant cups if inverted upside down. Perhaps you could clean out the throw-a-ways.
What I do is to cut each narrow top edge off with a fast action band saw blade. This makes a nice clean cut. I fill with potting soil, snap on a sippy lid and place in a flat big bottom down, This allows bottom watering and prevents tipping over.
With tomatoes I tap the filled cup down. The smaller hole has about two inches of space as the soil packs down. I pencil a hole in the soil, insert the plant, and top off with clean sand, vermiculite or more potting soil up to the top edge. The idea on the sand/vermiculite is to reduce “damp off” if your potting soil has the virus; since plants do best with a dry top layer of soil and air flow. Wet soil and stagnant airflow promotes “damp off”.
Setting them out in the garden is easier with no chance of root damage/disturbance. Simply dig a hole, remove the sippy bottom cover and plunk down in a well-watered hole just where the Styrofoam narrow part is a couple inches above the soil line. This eliminates cutworm attacks. At the end of the season you can till in the cups, which just adds a soil loosening effect like vermiculite.
Taking this a step further as a soil amendment I have been collecting truckloads of Styrofoam pieces from stores and ground up in my hammer mill shredder a sample for my deep beds. Three years later I still see looseness. My next experiment will be to add bags and bags to a new Growhaus bed to break up the clay more. I also want to replace vermiculite-which is expensive- and see how this will work as a potting soil base. For those interested in hydroponics this would be a good soil medium replacement.
The best choice in these Styrofoam cups is Styrofoam, NOT plastic or waxed paper type. I prefer dark color cup vs. the white ones that I have in abundance. Some plants prefer a light barrier and dark cups work best. So in my case I would give the inside of the cup a spray of black color.
With the white cups you could go to a print shop, say at a UPS store, and have a few million labels made up to advertise your plant. The junk catalogs often advertise mailing labels for a couple of dollars and this is the most inexpensive way to go. As for me, I no longer label anything, but for gifts I use a copper brown treated Popsicle stick, or craft shop tongue depressor and a black marker pen to identify what the variety is. Sometimes I clip on my web page address cards.
As it goes, I quickly run out of space in the greenhouse. I advocate early seed germination and transplants to the cold frames, as you have to make room for the next batch, so that in May you can set them out in the garden. If you have a greenhouse you never are bored with nothing to do. In fact, for me, it becomes my master.
Potato growers take note: I was perusing 4 Seasons nursery catalog and found a good price on Jersey Night Asparagus plants and potato eyes. Although you can buy-soon- potato certified seed (that’s whole potatoes), you can eat the potato part that you do not cut off an eye to start your potatoes plantation. Many people do not have room for a 100 lbs of seed potatoes, so this venture of just selling potato eyes look interesting. I ordered a bunch to see how they do. Potatoes do best cold stored and in the dark. Regular potatoes you buy, although they may have a few sprouts, are treated and if you use these sprouts you will have a reduced harvest, as nothing grows right. You have to have certified seed potatoes and in 50# bags as it is going to be an expensive purchase this year. Wal*Mart™ sold some nice 5 lb. bag varieties last year in the garden center- mine grew well and I have fresh seed growing in the back room for this early spring planting as soon as I can get the soil worked loose. A small sprinkle of bone meal insures bigger potatoes in the row; just a sprinkle now.
A preliminary report on seed, yes, actual pelleted seed for starting potatoes. From 100 seeds I have a 40% loss. This is better than in the 70’s, but unacceptable. We all keep trying. We shall see how they grow this year.
I consider potatoes as a mainstay survival tasty food as countless South America’s indigenous folk did, the Europeans for the past 500 years, and now people all over the globe. If you want sure fired food stores, potatoes are the name of the game. Once started you eat the portion of the potato not used for sprouts to plant, when the potatoes emerge from the harvest, you eat what you want, save a few for next seasons sprouts and the Big Wheel keeps turning.
Now is the time to get outside on the warm cycle days, pull in some Vitamin D, measure your guttering, think about gathering some organic materials for your beds, plan on laying in an underground watering system,
Gardening is not all done at once, it is a lifetime of doing, planning and enjoying. Gardening is a root word for health.
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COPYRIGHT: 2009 Back2theLand, Mark Steel